March 28, 2016 / Andrew Brown

It’s Not Just What You Say, But How You Say It

Product stewards might have the technical background necessary to do their jobs, but they often struggle when communicating with non-technical audiences. Whether they’re interacting with consumers, government officials or local community advocates, product stewards can defuse tensions or escalate them simply by how they interact.

“It’s really important for technically trained people to think about interpreting and understanding the concerns of non-specialists,” says Bob DeMott, principal toxicologist at Ramboll Environ. Imagine you’re meeting with a community about the impact to air quality from your plant’s emissions. The audience doesn’t care about the oxidation status of copper in the atmosphere, for instance. “The question is, is my kid safe. That’s the first goal. It’s about orienting the message to what are the non-specialist’s needs,” says DeMott.

One specific thought is to use analogy as a way to communicate effectively with non-specialists. “Rather than saying we need to move a certain number of tons of material out of this waterway, for instance, you might say the amount of impacted sediment is the same as it would take to fill a swimming pool,” says DeMott.

At Stewardship 2016, DeMott and his co-panelists will share additional techniques for effective communication, Stopping the Regulatory Madness or Protecting the People – A Professional Look at Impolite Debates​. More importantly, attendees will practice the techniques during interactive role-playing scenarios, including a mock product recall and simulated hearing with government officials.

“Even if it’s simulated, having that situation where there are aggressive questions by having someone playing that role is a lot better way for you to learn and internalize than someone standing at a podium with a Power Point,” says DeMott.

Andrew Brown

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